Dental care is the most common unmet health care need for children with chronic conditions. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that not all children with chronic conditions encounter difficulties accessing dental care. The goals of this study are to evaluate dental care use for Medicaid-enrolled children with chronic conditions and to identify the subgroups of children with chronic conditions that are the least likely to use dental care services.
This study focused on children with chronic conditions ages 3-14 enrolled in the Iowa Medicaid Program in 2005 and 2006. The independent variables were whether a child had each of the following 10 body system-based chronic conditions (no/yes): hematologic; cardiovascular; craniofacial; diabetes; endocrine; digestive; ear/nose/throat; respiratory; catastrophic neurological; or musculoskeletal. The primary outcome measure was use of any dental care in 2006. Secondary outcomes, also measured in 2006, were use of diagnostic dental care, preventive dental care, routine restorative dental care, and complex restorative dental care. We used Poisson regression models to estimate the relative risk (RR) associated with each of the five outcome measures across the 10 chronic conditions.
Across the 10 chronic condition subgroups, unadjusted dental utilization rates ranged from 44.3% (children with catastrophic neurological conditions) to 60.2% (children with musculoskeletal conditions). After adjusting for model covariates, children with catastrophic neurological conditions were significantly less likely to use most types of dental care (RR: 0.48 to 0.73). When there were differences, children with endocrine or craniofacial conditions were less likely to use dental care whereas children with hematologic or digestive conditions were more likely to use dental care. Children with respiratory, musculoskeletal, or ear/nose/throat conditions were more likely to use most types of dental care compared to other children with chronic conditions but without these specific conditions (RR: 1.03 to 1.13; 1.0 to 1.08; 1.02 to 1.12; respectively). There was no difference in use across all types of dental care for children with diabetes or cardiovascular conditions compared to other children with chronic conditions who did not have these particular conditions.
Dental utilization is not homogeneous across chronic condition subgroups. Nearly 42% of children in our study did not use any dental care in 2006. These findings support the development of multilevel clinical interventions that target subgroups of Medicaid-enrolled children with chronic conditions that are most likely to have problems accessing dental care.